Saturday, March 9, 2024

Sublime Joe Henderson Tribute from the Lori Bell Quartet

 Recorda Me: Remembering Joe Henderson -- Lori Bell Quartet

It’s more a case of slipping into a comfy, loose-fitting garment than it is studying Lori Bell’s latest release, Recorda Me: Rememb ering Joe Henderson. Kicking off with the late jazz saxophone great’s composition ‘Isotope,’” Bell nimbly states the spry signature theme, and one finds oneself unexpectedly wholly immersed in a delightful exchange between the flutist and pianist Josh Nelson. She and the keyboardist weave a delicate and swinging set of variations on it. Nelson’s touch on the keys is light, deft, and swinging, surely over the subdued but percolating tempo provided by bassist David Robaire and drummer Dan Schnelle. Bell is, as she has always been in her distinguished effort, a flutist with unlimited resources who brings her nuanced lines to the fabric that the others have created for her on the opening track. Her playing soars, bringing a different assortment of tonal color to her speedy bop-informed lines and the lyrical blues coloration she often provides in her slower passages.

The album continues in this pleasurable vein, a sagacious offering of deceptively easy grooves and meters. The Lori Bell Quartet has an odd combination in that the allure in this album’s worth of interpretation of Joe Henderson’s compositions lies in the kind of classical precision, yet full of the intricate twists and shifting chord voices that elevate the improvisational acumen of all the players. It’s apparent halfway through the disc that this does not come across as a routine “tribute” to a departed jazz giant as well as projects that—in spite of good intentions—too often seem lifeless or at least absent the grace and luxuriant finesse of whomever the tribute is geared toward.

Bell avoids stifling perfectionism that mars such efforts and lets Joe Henderson’s compositions breathe in a way; the ensemble allows itself to be playful with the music in front of them, undulating with a steady yet continually evolving succession of rhythmic invention. Henderson’s saxophone playing was rich and expressive, versatile and harmonically complex. He had at his disposal an armada of voices that would be brackish and groove, smooth and lyrical, excitingly precise as his compositions required. Deeply rooted in the blues, Henderson’s songwriting used Latin and Afro references, elements creating an insistent and flexible rhythmic basis that made his inventive use of unexpected chord progressions more provocative. His music was one of dynamic but unassuming brilliance.

Recorda Me: Remembering Joe Henderson is stellar work, with the collective readings of Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” “A Shade of Jade,” and the tour de force workout on the title track, with its ascending and descending themes and shifting melody contrasts. It is a wondrous effort toward a breathtaking whole: Bell negotiates Henderson’s galloping changes with quicksilver improvisations over Nelson’s sympathetic chordings and counter melodies. His solo outing here in turn is a keen master class in uncluttered elegance. A shout out as well for the very fine work by drummer Schnelle and bassist Robaire, a rhythm section pursuing a dialogue of their own as meters swerve and sway and swing. Recorda Me does exactly what Bell and her superlative quartet intended, reintroducing listeners to a resourceful and exciting musician and composer. This music moves fast on the uptake, is light on its feet, and is memorable and compelling, rendered with a fervent wholeheartedness by a superlative ensemble.    

(originally prublished in the San Diego Troubadour).

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The failure of "Nowhere Man"

There continues to this  day, since it's release as a single in 1965, a debate, sometimes hot and other times merely a simmer, as to how successful the Beatles the "Nowhere Man" was in its day and how effectively its travelled through the decades since our first hearing. Not well say some and famously so say others. I’d agree that Nowhere Man is a failure at saying something poetic and relevant. The lyrics are banal and obvious in the straw man sort of it’s making fun of, and the moral of the story (“making all your nowhere plans for nobody…”) is insipid. This is the one time I remember that the Beatles were following a trend instead of setting one.Dylan creates an entire world of surreal and distorted characters that greet the Thin Man as he arrives , suitcase in hand, in a terrain that seems more as if he’s entering the first ring of Hell where he is confronted by every selfish choice he ever made. Dylan wanted to stop writing “finger pointing songs” (as he called his protest work) and explore the possibilities of what he could do with his word slinging. 

He accomplished much, as we all know, and it got him a Nobel Prize.I believe songs should be discussed as a whole as well, but what makes some reviewers and critics more dependable**,** intriguing and provocative is to write in earnest about what it is they regard as most germane within a particular song or larger piece of music. Criticism**,** no matter how one cares to address or define it or create proper protocols, is a subjective matter, and the reviewers who’ve I’ve kept reading over many years are the ones who can make compelling and reasoned arguments to make their case. You don’t have to be convinced, but it helps if one listens to and understands the argument being made. In this, I think the intent of Lennon writing Nowhere Man was to deliver a message ala Dylan, Phil Ochs and other folkies and folk-rockers about the superficiality of contemporary life, straw manning the squares of the Establishment with terms and phrases that we would now call “virtue signaling”. Even at age 14, when this song had come out, I thought it sounded false; I had already glommed onto Eliot’s Wasteland , Howl through my interest in Dylan at the time and pretty much had a standard set for me for lyrics that try to tell me about the sterility of Modern Life and the people who refuse to do anything to change it. 

Dylan, Ginsberg, Ochs, and others did more than describe the evils of capitalist leisure, they gave listeners vivid portraits buttressed by real, tangible anger but which was mitigated by craft. You can feel the foul wind blowing in Eliot’s wasteland, you were in the cold water flats with Ginsberg’s marginalized miscreants listening to the terror through the wall, you get a real sense of what a hell of one’s making might be like through the arrival of Mister Jones and his suitcase in a purely alienated space. Lennon is a brilliant man and there is much to discuss the abundance of his great work, but this effort, early in the days when the Beatles were showing the influences of other bands creating new and innovative work, is not one that holds up . It is perhaps the least interesting song in their catalog. But back to my point, if I had one, which is that the issue I found with this tune was Lennon’s intent to write a song that would drop knowledge , and the discussion, for me , was how well his attempt succeeded. I don’t think it did. But he did improve vastly. As did Paul Simon , who recovered from the stilted poetics of Sounds of Silence and all the unearned defeatism that particular meditation on alienation wallowed in and who became a songwriting powerhouse , perhaps the best of his generation.

Saturday, November 4, 2023


Dwight Twilley, underappreciated and (sigh) gone too soon, RIP. I reviewed his single “I’m On Fire” and his second album “Twilley Don’t Mind” in the 70s and always wondered at the time why he and his lifetime music partner Phil Seymour’s earnestly rhythmic and affectless convergence of Mersey beat melodicism and rockabilly swivel jive, replete with lapel-grabbing hooks, joyously confused vocals and sharp, popping guitar sounds never found a larger audience beyond the first hit and consistently high praise from well-placed rock critics. Office politics at the record company that released his one true hit delayed the release of their debut album, and the time lag sapped the momentum the artists had, but some of it might be that writers didn’t quite get a handle on how to categorize the Twilley Band: they were hailed, sloppily, as members of the “Tulsa Sound”, praised as creators of “power pop”, hailed as fathers of the post-punk New Wave trend, and other times, and more accurately, just called rock and roll. As the obit indicates, Twilley was annoyed at the messy attempts to place his music in a category in which it might be made commercially appealing. Just the same, the descriptions of the band’s rock and roll originals were on the money. Perhaps they needed a Jon Landau to write about them and declare that he had seen the face of rock and roll’s future to inspire a major media push for a worthy set of musicians. More likely, the Dwight Twilley Band’s moment had come and gone, with label mismanagement and shifting audience tastes at particular times being blockades. There remains some fine, eternally fresh rock and roll.”


Friday, November 3, 2023

Steely Dan


Steely Dan was called “Insufferably perfectionist” in a headline from a recent Atlantic essay discussing the renewed interest in the band's work.  It would be an apt description for the session musicians who worked for Fagin and Becker while recording the duo's fine string of studio releases. But listening to the records was anything by “insufferable” for listeners: at their best, Steely Dan's music was an elegant and generally seamless composition of beguiling hooks, mysterious melodic transitions, pitch perfect solos. Rock, jazz, funk, and even hits of 20th century classical make up their sound, dreamy and menacing. They are what others deny, an art band, a genuinely American equivalent of what British and European prog-rockers attempted, bringing together pop-music foundations with more sophisticated composition and arranging. Their models were doo-wop bands, rhythm, and blues dance jams, but also the orchestral magnificence of Ellington's notations for his band;s prime soloists. The chilly cool of Miles Davis lurks around in there as well, blended with some earnest, mellow toned soul-jazz of Oliver Lake, but where eventually where the latter artists' arrangements gave themselves over to extended improvisations from skilled ad libbers, with Steely Dan a listener to weight for the virtuosity. Fagin and Becker's recombination of their jazz influences became dense, elongated further, became more lush and impressionistic, almost tone-poem like , as the years progressed, and the solos were certainly the last thing album buyers were looking for with this pair's releases. At their best they were brilliant and enthralling, and even their lyrics-as-poetry couldn't deflate the sum of their achievement. Principal lyricist Fagin read his Eliot, his Williams, his O'Hara, his Schwartz, and his Corman , all grand modernist who didn't clog their stanzas with poetic affectation. Fagin's narratives, his evocations, are spare but mysterious, indirect but tacitly felt. Not a wasted word, which means the lyrics were odd and elegant, a sublime compliment to their music.

Discussing Little Feat, music critic Robert Christgau ventured to say that the dedicated group wasn't just another jam band from Los Angeles but were, in disguise, Euro progressive-rockers at heart. Little Feat had slide guitar, soulful vocals, and boogie well enough to satisfy anyway speedway inclination to get in the T Bird and gun your engine. Still, Bill Payne's slippery keyboard work's modernist jazzy and sly sound and the sneaky switching of time signatures amid the funk-riffing improvisation, an odd and provocative convergence of jazz, blues, rock and soul influences,  made them hard to classify.  Christgau pegged them as a brighter version of the Continental art-rockers. Plainly, Little Feat wanted their music to be something that reflected the best use of their musicianship. Their sound was skilled, never busy, lyrically evasive and evocative at the same time, never far the American mythos of Robert Johnson country-blues or Bukowski/Selby/Algren take on seeking transcendence as well as survival in a post-war American city. To Christgau's point, I would add Steely Dan,  perhaps the most inscrutable band to achieve a long line of radio hits, platinum albums, and sold-out tours. More so than Little Feat, Steely Dan was incredibly sharp at composing great hooks for their songs, those brief introductions at the start of tunes or coming midway during the chorus, or appearing else, unanticipated, that lures you into the story and the musical moods that underscore the emotional journey. Beyond hooks, though, Steely Dan was eclectic in the styles they drew from inputting their albums together--great bouts of guitar boogie for the stadium crowd, a mid-tempo bottom of jamming funk keeping matters on a constant low boil, Ellington like tone poems where the horn players managed brass and reed orchestrations only to give way to alone, searching cry and lilt of sax improvisation. 

All this and the hooks, and the lyrics, managed by keyboardist and lead vocalist Don Fagin, an opaquely and vaguely presented universe of people, places, things, and situations that rarely come into sharp focus; surreal, witty, allusive, cruel, and kind in different turns of mood, Fagin didn't have a large world he wrote about, or instead, wrote around. But his word craft was generally superb, like the music, artful but not crowded, bright but chatty. 
The late Walter Becker, a Steely Dan co-founder with Fagin, a writing partner in a beautifully realized team effort, made this work all the pieces. He arranged  the music, turning mere hooks and stray ideas into whole pieces.

 As often as not, centering an arrangement around Fagin's keyboard, with its affection for minor-key flirtations at the end of chord progressions that just as often seemed like an awakening and eventual arousal from the dream you wish you could return to. Becker's work on the arrangements showed that he knew how to extend and compress sections of a song under construction. His was the ability to have their best material to be immediate clarity of riff, flourish and hook. He had a discerning ear for things more diffuse, abstract, opaque informal response to emotional states under an artist's scrutiny, made Steely Dan unique even in a time when there was scarcely a shortage of quality musicians and experimenters advancing their way to their respective versions of true and only heaven. Add to this surrealistically pleasurable slurring of motifs, literary conceits, and hard-bop resolve. We have Becker's signature guitar work, stinging, serpentine solos, short fills, and spatially sublime solos with phrasing that seemed to move in a coiling, sideways motion. Becker was never rushing with his fretwork; his note choices investigated the chords and space between them, popped, stung, and soothed as motif and mood required. Becker co-created something priceless, alluring, daunting, yet readily approachable in pop music. It's a pity there is no real equivalent prize such as the Nobel for rock and roll. 

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Sunday, October 29, 2023



There are books that have nothing to do with reading but are only about other books lost in the marsh when the land fill finally sank after generations of having its soil stolen by viciously false currents generated by power boats tropical disasters crawling over the coastline like splatter expressions of tearful contempt on damp missals and newspaper throw rugs, so many books that exist only to become furniture for those years in households of college couples striving to make the past useful as furniture and  by association, anything these pages might have told in words that form poems and adages and philosophy on the fly are only reminders that all material dissolves eventually and that it is never beautiful, the horror language tried to disguise now exacting it's vulgar inevitability. And the house and the books and the scythe like limbs of many dead, leafless trees seeming to lurch for a thumbnail moon sink under the black water, into the murk, centuries of argumentative disquisitions married to the muck and mire.

Saturday, October 21, 2023



There was a time when, halfway through my teen years with two years worth of blues harmonica wood- shedding behind me, I felt inferior for reasons maybe obvious, that I didn’t feel my chosen instrument was legitimate against whole orchestras of devices that could be performed without instrumentalist shame. But I got older, and I kept playing, obsessed with learning despite my minor case of self-loathing, and find myself in a position of being too old and actually too good a harmonica player to care what the rest of the universe thinks of the sounds I make. Worrying about the “relevance” of the harmonica in today's world is to miss the point entirely. The assumption behind the question--is it still relevant--implies that playing the harmonica is regarded more as a status symbol than as a tool for the legitimate and humanly necessary pursuit of making music that expresses, in music, the emotional life of the musicians playing. The question degrades the state of the instrument from being a tool to create some space for joy and wonder in the world, a thing that should be incorruptible, to that foul thing that only furthers neurotic obsessions with social standing. If one has survived the fads, concerns and the warring of stale ideologies over a long period of time, decades, say, if you've come to the point where what people think of your harmonica playing is meaningless and merely a reflection of their sense of irrelevance, then yes, harmonicas are relevant in today's world, your world, the only world that matters, finally, when you put the harmonica on the microphone and let loose with a timeless 1 1V V. Beyond that, worries about whether the instrument still matters seem a species of introspect that arises when there is nothing good on cable TV.

Some time ago, in the early internet days, I remarked on a music forum over in Salon’s old Table Talk readers comment section that I thought Mick Jagger was a horrible singer, but he was a vocalist of great genius. Stalwart Jaggernauts attacked me outright while I tried to make myself understood, but this was no use and really an event I should have seen coming. In fact, I wanted to stir up the conversation that was underway, which was a droning exchange of the usual accolades heaped on the Rolling Stones. The topic was sealed finally by forum moderators who tired of trying to control an angry mob of netizen Jagger fans poised to supply more poison posts. I should have clarified because my point is that there are white singers who have technically awful voices who brandish blues influences all the same and who have managed to fashion vocal styles that are instantly distinct, unique, recognizable. Mick Jagger is a vocalist who learned to work brilliantly with the little singing ability God deigned to give him: knowing that he didn't have the basic equipment to even come close to simulating Muddy Waters or Wilson Pickett, he did something else instead in trying to sing black and black informed music-- talk-singing, the whiny, mewling purr, the bull moose grunt, the roar, the grunts and groans, the slurs and little noises, all of which he could orchestrate into amazing, memorable performances. One Plus One (Sympathy for the Devil)Godard's film of the Stones writing, rehearsing and finally recording the song of the title, is especially good because it captures the irresolute tedium of studio existence (in between Godard's didactic absurdist sketches attempting to address the conundrum of leftist media figures being used by invisible powers to squelch true revolutionary change). More than that, we see Jagger piecing together his vocals, his mewling reading of the lyrics from the lyric sheet; his voice is awful, in its natural state. But we do witness Jagger getting bolder as the song progresses through the endless stoned jamming, a grunt added here, a raised syllable here, a wavering croon there. Finally, we are at the last take, and Jagger is seen with headphones on, isolated from the others, screaming his head off into a microphone while the instrumental playback pours forth, in what is presumably the final take. Jagger, all irony and self-awareness, created something riveting and for all time with the marginal instrument he was born with, and is part of what, I think, is a grand tradition of white performers who haven't a prayer of sounding actually black who nonetheless molded a style of black-nuanced singing that's perfectly credible: Mose Allison, Van Morrison, Felix Cavalari (Rascals), Eric Burdon (early Animals), Peter Wolf, late of the under appreciated J.Geils Band.We cannot underestimate Keith Richard's contribution to Jagger's success as a vocalist. Someone had to know how to write tunes Jagger could handle, and Keith was just the man to do it. Richard's guitar work, as well, riffs and attacks and staggers in ways that match Jagger's strutting and mincing. Writing is everything, as always.


 It's an inescapable fact that blues is an African American art form , as is jazz and, for that matter, rock and roll at its most vital, and that there are talented, brilliant and exciting black musicians who continue to play the music, innovate within its historical definitions and extend those definitions to keep the music contemporary, alive, and most important, relevant to the way people, players and listeners, live today. It's my belief, inscribed deeply in the most fundamental set of moral convictions I have, that to ignore the plenitude of black talent, whether they are young, middle-aged, or elderly, if you're a music editor, a record company executive, a promoter specializing in blues festivals, a club owner highlight blues and roots acts, is racism, clear and simple. Likewise, it's racism on a subtle level, but damaging all the same; a decision was made to exclude black musicians from this list. Compiling a list of the worthy is always problematic,fraught with all sorts of dangers because any number of readers can be offended for insular reasons no writer can predict. But what's offensive about this list is the laziness of the selection. I happen to like a number of the artists here and believe musicians like Black Keys, Joe Bonamassa, Susan Tedeschi and others are legitimate blues musicians.Skin color isn't their fault, and , to me,the quality of their chops and the authenticity of their feeling are "real". I will also give the writers credit for including a good number of women on the list.

Still, the lack of black musicians is inexcusable and reveals a conspicuous , egregious choice by the editors to remain loyal to their skin hue. Where was Sugar Blue? Lucky Peterson? The Eric Gale Band?Shemekia Copeland? Alvin Hart? Sapphire?Gary Clark Jr? Keb Mo? These players deserve wider recognition no less than the ones who made the list; I have a strong, strong suspicions that an inexcusable laziness directed the selection process, formed, no doubt, by a profound lack of curiosity on the part of the "critics" who, by the definition of their job, are supposed to knowledgeable and curious about things that fall outside their comfort zone. I suspect also that those making the selection were entirely white; as such,they stuck with the skin color they are most comfortable with.

 Jefferson Airplane was a side of psychedelic rock I found most appealing, being in their short-lived prime a volatile and imaginative forced marriage of folk tradition, jazzy "mystery chords", Joycean/Eliot/Huxlyian versifying, and piercing harmonies provided by the bulldozing Grace Slick and Balin's soaring, bittersweet tenor. Their albums were a fascinating, eclectic mess, indulgent and snotty and harsh; I would put them, along with the Stooges, MC5 and the Velvets, as stylistic forerunners of the punk rock anti-aesthetic. Balin was the ballast for the band, a balladeer, a genuine folk singer, a romantic who never abandoned his tendency for the oddly effective lyric that emphasized an actual relationship rather than a worldview. I liked this band up to Volunteers album.Afterward, the devolution set in, when Paul Kanter's sci-fi libertarian fantasizes turned JA into a plodding monstrosity of ego and half-measured music.

Those among the readership who followed the career arc of this band through the 60s and the 70s will recall, perhaps stifling a gag reflex, the slew of Jefferson Starship albums that evolved from the original band. It will suffice to say for this short note that the best thing the Starship ever did was recording and releasing Marty Balin's fabulous song "Miracles", a sensuous, radiant paen to making love with a partner. Alluring melody, a vocal aching with a combination of passion and a more primal lust, all of it buffeted by swirling guitar lyricism from the able-fingered Craig Chaquico. It was the best thing Jefferson Starship ever did, a masterpiece of pop-rock sexuality that rose to canonical heights over the increasing vapidity and knuckleheaded irrelevance. The band, or at least the management and record company, hung their heads in shame all the way to the bank, and it remains, I suppose, the supreme irony of things that a band beginning as Jefferson Airplane, counterculture revolutionaries singing of a society without pretense, class structure, false morality and , by implication, cash, evolved into the Jefferson Starship, a cash cow for corporate interests. So yes, money changes everything. That said, it should be mentioned that the guitar work of Jorma and Jack Cassidy's basslines were among the best teams of the era. And Balin was a fine musician, singer, and songwriter who might have done better if he had a less dicey means to bring his music to the public.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Louise Gluck, RIP


Sad day for poetry. 2020 Nobel Prize winner for Literature Louise Gluck (pronounced "Glick”), the first America non-songwriting poet to garner the award since T.S. Eliot in 1948. Bob Dylan, I suppose, ought to be included in that slim roster of bards, but his 2016 award in the category always smelled fishy, more an award for being famous and influential and being a musician who has made indescribable amounts of capital. Small wonder he won, as his work, whether you liked his songwriting or not, could be listened to rather than read. He deserved something of a lifetime achievement award for all the brilliant and nitwit tunes he's both blessed and cursed the world for over a half century. But he is a songwriter, a complaint I lodge often enough here, he is a songwriter and not a poet and the dimensions of what genius has displayed belong in another category. No, I do not think his lyrics transcend their genre and ascend to the vaunted standard of page poetry. If it did, they'd be giving literary awards to composers who specialized in operas . But they don't give awards meant for book writers and page poets to opera composers or songwriters, and they ought not to have given Dylan one. And for the late Gluck? She is someone I admired more than enjoyed, as I was awed by her ability to deal with the history of her own critical times without lapsing into sef-mythologizing or solipsistic meandering. Her writing was clear and lyric, her tone firm but not inflexible, and she could render her personal verse in subtle virtuoso pieces that framed her experiences as bits of recognizable mythology or graspable folk tales. Her clarity gave her best work a certain lyric sharpness not often seen among contemporary poets who, one may suggest, dress up even their good work with linguistic window dressing and fashionable tropes and phrases that age none too well. She wasn't fearing a reader finding out what she was writing about , let alone who. She was the other side of spectrum from John Ashbery, who's closed off signature style is one I sometimes favor quite a bit. But Gluck was different and she was great and now she's gone.

Friday, October 6, 2023


I enjoyed Ridley Scott's Aliens prequel Prometheus, proposed as a first step in the franchise that would establish the beginnings of this sci-fi saga up to the point where we first meet the fabulous action-babe Ripley. Scott's return to the franchise, and to space operas in general, was a joy to behold, with great acting, stunning special effects, a fascinating premise and, yes, a general feeling of creepiness as the hoary warnings against corporate greed and attending evil are made tangible yet again. Not a perfect film, but the scale and power of the storytelling, albeit incomprehensible at times, made it an entertainment worth revisiting. Not so much for the follow-up effort, Alien:Covenant, again directed by Scott. Where Prometheus added some new twists to the Alien mythos, this new effort offers intriguing little ; it is a make – work project. We do discover the origins of the Xenomorph and are expected to marvel at their many manifestations , different kinds, shapes, purposes. But there is something dispirited about this film. There is no spectacle to speak of, no real wow factor, conditions not improved by the pacing, which is strangely led footed. Especially surprising for a director of Scott's caliber: an inconsistent director for quality, even his worse films had a great veneer and, most of , all moved well. Covenant shuffles


The movies that DC Comics have made so far in their efforts to establish their franchises in contrast to that of their competition, Marvel Comics. The uniform negative responses, to be sure, have their points that deserve to be discussed, but the wave of hate seems more a product of the internet's tendency to encourage an echo chamber effect; nervous fans, not sure of what they actually desire from a movie, suspend their critical faculties and dive head long into the noisy bull run of nay saying . Objections are over stated, insults are hurled, feelings are hurt. And still, I like what DC and Warner Brothers have done, for the most part. Not to get off on a longish defense of particular films, I will assert here that Zack Snyder is one of the few directors who gets the dynamism and flair of the graphic novel and produces resolutely beautiful and exciting action sequences, however dark and grim they may be . And, of course,, "Man of Steel" is a masterpiece, in my view. You can find my longer defense of that film elsewhere on this blog. The fact that “Wonder Woman” is presently at 94 percent critic approval on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes makes me smile. Director Patty Jenkins directs with a sure, firm and confident hand, efficiently and effectively establishing the WW mythology as it relates to a re-imagined Greek mythology, the origin story of the young girl who would become the eventual superhero, and the first adventure of Wonder Woman in full costume, in the WW 1 trenches, fighting with the British against the Germans, searching for her foe Ares,the God of War. It works remarkably well, I think. A wonderful cast featuring wonderful work from Chris Pine and Robin Wright. Gal Gadot as WW, a controversial casting when first announced, is excellent here. Athletic, naive, ironic, fierce in combat sequences and sweetly ironic in the comic parts, she turns in a star-making performance.

Friday, September 29, 2023



I’ve been a defender of the Stones’ late career work, admitting right off that nothing they can do will equal their best efforts of decades passed. However, the albums of more recent years have more quality than many cynics have let on. At this point, I have to evolve from my former stance that the Rolling Stones represent far less the idea that senior citizen rock musicians can still make credible rock and roll that can reflect a world view that took many decades to form. Instead, they have become an example of an institution completely irrelevant to anything that matters musically, socially, ironically. 

As more is being revealed to an aging audience and to a younger audience curious about the sort of dereliction their parents and grandparents might have indulged in youth, word is getting out that Jagger lived more on the edge than has been let on. He is portrayed as a pansexual satyr with a budget to afford his taste. This amounts to more of the old news that any dedicated listener already knows. Just as “Angry” are merely newer versions of the same riffs they deployed for decades. 

The upcoming album, Hackney Diamonds, is due to be released on October 20th, but the fact that the first single from it, "Angry"  resembles a tribute band more than anything else makes the impending release of the full album less exciting. I'm feeling just a bit of dread anticipating these elders coming around one more time, wondering how they can again make their usual riffs and tropes interesting once more.Although it does seem that they’ve had to remember how to be the Rolling Stones. In their attempt to remain relevant 23 years into the 21st century, they look kind of pathetic.


"Eight Miles High by the Byrds, released in 1966, a brief but combustible mixture of Imagist lyrics, unusual time signatures that alternate between 5/4 and 4/4, jazz and raga overtones and guitarist Roger (née Jim) McGuinn's transcendent, Coltrane inspired solos. It's been argued that McGuinn was far out of his depth technically as he attempted the register-leaping dramatics of Coltrane's free-jazz period, but that pretty much misses the point and misses what the Byrds guitarist actually accomplished: on the twelve string Rickenbacker electric, the solo merges the open-ended flow of experimental jazz improvisation with an effective use of Ravi Shanker's raga-foundationed excursions.

It is rhythmically complex and unpredictable, and musically achieves that expansionist orientation of the most interesting rock music at the time. It may pale compared against the virtuoso furies embodied in 'Trane and Archie Shepp's work, but it is a masterpiece of rock guitar work, an experimental improvisation that set a standard for how far “out” a guitar solo could proceed beyond its blues foundation.

There were countless early experiments in mixing rock with other genres, specifically raga and jazz, and not a little hunt and peck improvisation happening during this period, the most successful efforts being the extended Bloomfield excursions on East West, Larry Coryell's invention of fusion method in the Free Spirits band, and some others, but "Eight Miles High" was a radio hit of a sort, ranking at 14 in the Billboard 100. It was banned from some stations because of the (too) obvious association with drugs, but where I was in Detroit, the tune was played much of the time on \ local AM and FM outlets. It was a surprise at the time, a song entirely unique and ahead of its time that stands as one of the artistically successful attempts at what would come to be termed fusion.


Neil Young's sci-fi junkie lament "After the Goldrush" gets a harmonized rendition in this 1974 release. The lead vocal by Irene Hume reveals a slightly husky voice that characterizes the solo and chorus arrangement, with an appealing result that makes you think of a choir of Melanies. The power of Young's song is that it makes the whole idea of being a drug addict hallucinating in a bomb crater after a presumably nuclear apocalypse seem attractive, the perfect vehicle with which to compose stark imagery and espouse by implication what a waste the entirety of human history has been.

The undercurrent of this was that the only thing the narrator wanted from this life was love and bright, shining truth, which this catastrophe rudely made impossible. There was a vein of songwriting from Lou Reed, Joni Mitchell and the Rolling Stones that intentionally or not made drug use, addiction and just flat out being fucked- up an attractive , even morally superior state to be in; I can't speak to your experience, but I detect this song as being something of a scolding from Young to the parents of the angry young kids. "See what you made them do?!!"

Poetry and song lyrics make nothing happen, remember, that is nothing besides make listeners so inclined to feel momentarily nostalgic or even a bit guilty with how things turned out after the youthful years are spent. It allows for a momentary wallow before the citizenry presses on with family , bills, jobs they can't stand, which is another way of saying that Young's lyrics, intended as a warning and a message of spiritual importance, changed nothing in ways that counter culture utopians desired. Sing it, David Byrne, same as it ever was… .

The song is what it was always fated to be, a go-to song for a Classic Rock radio programmer. Prelude's syrupy harmonies bring a theme of ecological disaster and pharmed-out despair to the Starbucks, piped on, barely audible over the chatter and grinding of outside traffic. A perfect radio hit for the time, pleasant melody, depressed lyrics, alluring vocal craft.